Hopkinton/Westborough Massachusetts – June 24, 1943
On the morning of June 24, 1943, a flight of four P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes took off from Hillsgrove Army Air Field in Warwick, Rhode Island, on what was to be a routine formation training flight.
The flight leader was 2nd Lieutenant Thomas J. Beasley, flying in the number one position; followed by 2nd Lieutenant Douglas Edward Smith, 2nd Lieutenant Donald L. Murrie, and 2nd Lieutenant Max Itzkowitz, in the second, third, and fourth positions. To put it in layman’s terms, the flight formation would resemble a game of “follow the leader”.
The aircraft headed north towards central Massachusetts, and just before noontime, they’d reached the vicinity of Westborough, Massachusetts. At that time Lt. Beasley signaled a 45 degree turn to the left that would bring the formation in a line abreast of each other after the completion of the turn. It was during this maneuver that Lt. Smith and Lt. Murrie’s P-47s (#42-8186, and #42-8208) collided in mid-air causing severe damage to both aircraft.
Almost immediately Smith’s P-47 burst into flame and fell away from formation. Smith managed to bail out, but his parachute only partially opened and he was killed when came down in the town of Hopkinton. The burning aircraft came down on railroad tracks the belonging to the Boston & Albany Railroad which ran along the Southborough and Westborough town lines.
Meanwhile, Lt. Murrie’s P-47 went into an uncontrolled spin, but he was able to bail out safely. His plane came down and exploded in a swamp in Westborough. Murrie landed in a nearby wooded area and was able to signal Lt. Itzkowitz circling overhead that he was alright.
The situation then got worse when Lieutenants Beasley and Itzkowitz realized that a passenger train was heading towards the wreckage of Lt. Smith’s airplane resting on the tracks. The train was roughly five miles away, so the two pilots attempted to stop it by flying low and trying to signal the engineer. Unfortunately, he failed to interpret their signals and continued on.
At the same time, others on the ground also tried to warn the approaching train. Among them were two small boys who went running along the tracks waving their arms.
Another was a woman whose house abutted the tracks close to where the P-47 had crashed. She phoned the railroad station in Westborough to have them stop the train, but was told the train had already passed by. She then ran out onto the tracks and tried to wave down the train.
By the time the engineer realized the danger it was too late, and the train slammed into the burning wreckage and derailed. The locomotive was pulling five passenger cars and one baggage car, which tore up a considerable portion of track before coming to rest. As the dust began to settle, two of the passenger cars caught fire, but fortunately no serious injuries were reported.
Numerous people descended on the area, and state and local police had their hands full keeping onlookers and souvenir hunters at bay until military officials could arrive and take charge.
Lt. Smith is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. (To see a photo of Lt. Smith go to www.findagrave.com, Memorial #40494983.) Although news sources place the accident in “Southville” and “Westboro”, Lt. Smith died in the town of Hopkinton. This fact was established through town of Hopkinton death records.
All of the pilots on this flight were members of the 58th Fighter Group, 311th Fighter Squadron.
This particular Massachusetts World War II aviation accident is unusual due to the fact it involved a train derailment.
U.S. Army Crash Investigation Report #43-6-24-10
Marlboro Daily Enterprise, “Pilot Dies After U.S. Planes Hit In Air Over Westboro”, June 25, 1943, Pg. 2
New York Times, “Plane Wrecks A Passenger Train; Crashes In Path In Massachusetts”, June 25, 1943
Town of Hopkinton Massachusetts death records